Poetry Centre

  • Veterans’ poetry workshops


    In 2019, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre began a series of poetry workshops for US and UK military veterans. Drawing on the expertise of the Poetry Centre – a home for research into poetry and advocacy of its value in society – these workshops, designed and led by poets, veterans and academics, seek to explore how poetry can enable veterans to think through their experiences. In particular, they consider:

    • how poetry might be read and used by military veterans
    • how far 'war poetry' represents – or fails to represent – military service
    • how poetry can help to bridge the military/civilian divide
    • the role that poetry can play in post-war commemorative events.

    Personnel and research

    The workshop emerges from research by Dr Niall Munro (Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Director of Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre) and Dr Jane Potter (Reader, School of Arts), and develops a collaboration with Susie Campbell (PhD researcher at Oxford Brookes and poet - author of The Bitters (Dancing Girl Press, 2014; nominated for the Ted Hughes Award in 2015) and The Frock Enquiry (Annexe, 2015), Alex Donnelly (Founding Director of the Oxford University Disability Law and Policy Project and former Naval Intelligence Officer), and Dr Rita Phillips (Lecturer in Psychology, Robert Gordon University). All five members of the team first worked together on the University of Oxford/Oxford Brookes Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation, which took place in 2017-18.

    Documenting the workshops

    This page document the workshops as they progress and feature details of the workshops, photographs, and audio interviews with the participants. We hope these pages will provide useful resources, inspiration, and thought-provoking content for veterans, writers and others interested in the veteran experience.

    Upcoming workshops

    Our next workshops will take place between 16-18 August and this page will be updated with more details after the event. We are always happy to receive enquiries. For more details about the workshops, please contact Dr Niall Munro ( niall.munro@brookes.ac.uk).

    Eugene Ratz

    Eugene Ratz served in the US military from 2008-2014. He undertook two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the 82nd and 173rd Airborne Infantry. He studied literature and religion at Rutgers University and attends the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop.

    With poetry you don’t have to rest on this sort of negative, traumatic place - you could bring in what happened before and after with that, and give space for the trauma without repressing it and also all the love and positive aspects of the experiences that happened around the same time.

    The stories we’re telling each other these days - meaning these last two days here [in Oxford] - are the types of stories that we need to be writing.

    John Thampi

    John Thampi was a Captain in the Military Police Corps who deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He left the military in 2012. He has been a member of the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop and his writing has appeared in 9 Lines ( The Song of the Forest and Better ), The Rialto and Newtown Literary.

    Most people you deal with are civilians and aren't familiar with the military and don't have a background in the military so it’s hard for them to relate. So you either have to play the victim or the hero - truthfully, you do - I’d far better prefer to be the hero, so I do things subtly like listing my award. They don't know the difference between whether it's a heroic award or if it's just for service but I list it, and maybe I’m complicit in this whole process as well, but if you don’t in some ways define yourself, unless you’re willing to fit the mould initially you're never able to break out of it.

    Initially when I wrote I wrote still as something that’s cathartic, something that I can really put down into words what I was going through and what I went through, but now that I realize - even at my workplace - I think I'm speaking for, I hate to say ‘we’, but I am speaking for the ‘we’, we as the legion or we as a people. So I think I am in some ways giving a voice to people who  wouldn't otherwise ever put pen to paper.

    J. Robin Whitely

    J. Robin Whitely served in the United States Marine Corps from 2005-2008 and first deployed to Iraq in 2006. He attended Southern Oregon University and then Seattle University and has been a workshop facilitator at the NYU Veterans Writing Workshop.

    I think [writing] must be cathartic but at the same time there is a reason why I still haven’t really written about the war. I wrote about the war when I first got out [of the military] for a little while and then I pretty much abrupltly stopped.

    One of the things I go back and forth with is: as a veteran am I responsible? Is it my duty to write veterans’ poetry, veterans’ fiction, veterans’ work? Does the duty continue? I signed up, I raised my hand, I signed the contract, right? I am a veteran for life but I don’t want being a veteran to necessarily define me all the time.